At Thinklings, we strive to publish books that are not only readable and enjoyable but also re-readable. What makes a book re-readable? It depends on the reader! We’d love to see your comments below on what you think makes a book re-readable. The answers we came up with are: Nostalgia can certainly play a part—think favorite books from childhood. (One book Sarah is nostalgic about is No Flying in the House by Betty Brock: the first fantasy novel she remembers reading. For Jeannie, it’s Nancy Drew books, specifically The Hidden Staircase.) Wonderful characters who come alive, breathtaking settings, timeless themes that stir the heart, clever plot twists, a beautiful or engaging writing style, and personal connections also make a book re-readable.
Here are some books the three of us have pored over time and again:
I’ve reread my very favorite books, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series, several times, but there’s only one novel that I’ve revisited on a yearly basis. It’s a standalone, much shorter than the Tolkien and Rowling books, and it calls to me each autumn as the days grow darker and colder.
I discovered Clare Dunkle’s By These Ten Bones in 2008, after finishing her Hollow Kingdom trilogy and longing for more. BTTB is a spooky YA novel, which is why I read it (sometimes aloud to my husband) every October, usually finishing on Halloween. Yet the spookiness is not what pulls me back to the book, nor was it my reason for reading it in the first place. The aspects that draw me to the book are: 1) A major theme in it is sacrificial love and doing what you know is right, no matter what everyone else around you thinks/says/does. 2) The characters are diverse (personality-wise), well developed, and have interesting names like Little Ian, Mad Angus, and Fair Sarah. The author makes me feel, sometimes quite deeply, for almost all of them: annoyance, then pity, for Lady Mary and Ned; comradeship and admiration for Maddie; compassion for Paul; and revulsion for certain others, especially during the mob scene. Humor is sprinkled throughout, even with the not-so-likeable townsfolk. 3) The language, speech patterns, and cultural elements are very authentic, showing the author’s thorough research on Medieval Scotland. And 4) the setting is so immersive and beautifully described that you feel like you’re there in the Scottish highlands in a tiny village by a narrow loch. All these elements create a synergy that I can’t completely describe or do justice to. You just have to read the book!
Outside of SF/F and memoir, my favorite genre is Southern Gothic or magical realism, which I fully believe belong under the SF/F label because they are often so magically absurd. I first read A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds about a decade ago because I have a fascination with graveyards and books about graveyards. I found the book in a bargain bin labeled “bestselling authors” while my husband was in boot camp for the Navy. The story follows Finch, a girl who was badly misshapen and disabled as a child when a pot of scalding water fell on her. Because of her extreme disfigurement, she never leaves the confines of her home, which is in the town’s graveyard, which her parents tend.
And here’s where that weird, absurd, magical Southern bit comes in: The ghosts in the graveyard take pity on her and she grows up with a legion of mostly helpful ghost friends.
Why do I continually reread it? 1) The location: Aside from setting the book almost entirely in a graveyard, Reynolds masterfully crafts the feeling of a small Southern town, not only in the graveyard, but also in the town that holds it. 2) The sympathetic characters: Finch is the town’s crazy old woman, despite not being very old. All Reynolds’ characters are people we know and have interacted with in our own lives. They feel like home. 3) I love the quirky romance. 4) Dialogue: Being from the South, I love when a writer can readably convey “Southernisms” and the drawl to a wider audience. You get the flavor, à la To Kill a Mockingbird, within the first sentence without being overpowered. 5) The craft itself: I read through the book within a day the first time. The words flowed, the story moved like a raging river, and the unique structure of the book—it has no chapters—left me tearing through page after page. If you’ve worked with me, you know one of my biggest craft pet peeves is writing in present tense. It wasn’t until I started reading the book a second time that I realized it was written in present tense. To this day, it’s still the only book I’ve finished reading without noticing it’s in present tense.
My favorite authors write books that I can read again and again and again without them growing stale. Books have to be at least as good on the second and third and fourth reads, or I lose interest in both them and their authors. In this category, I love (for example) Jonathan Stroud’s Buried Fire and Lockwood and Co. series, Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy, Pamela Dean’s Secret Country Trilogy, and Dan Wells’s first John Cleaver trilogy.
Then, once in a great while, I find the best authors. The authors who write books that not only can I read every year without tiring of them, but who write books that get better with rereading—because with each reread, I find new depth, new humor, new content and twists and intricacies. Although I am always looking for more, at the moment there are only two authors I can definitively put on this list: Diana Wynne Jones (especially all her books, but since I should mention some specific examples, I’ll name Archer's Goon, the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Dark Lord of Derkholm, and Dogsbody) and Jane Austen (especially Pride and Prejudice, but with honors for Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey).
Is there a book (or books) you read every year, during a certain season, or on special occasions?